Transcriptome analysis provides a blueprint of coral egg and sperm functions

Julia Van Etten, Alexander Shumaker, Tali Mass, Hollie M. Putnam, Debashish Bhattacharya

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background. Reproductive biology and the evolutionary constraints acting on dispersal stages are poorly understood in many stony coral species. A key piece of missing information is egg and sperm gene expression. This is critical for broadcast spawning corals, such as our model, the Hawaiian species Montipora capitata, because eggs and sperm are exposed to environmental stressors during dispersal. Furthermore, parental effects such as transcriptome investment may provide a means for cross- or trans-generational plasticity and be apparent in egg and sperm transcriptome data. Methods. Here, we analyzed M. capitata egg and sperm transcriptomic data to address three questions: (1) Which pathways and functions are actively transcribed in these gametes? (2) How does sperm and egg gene expression differ from adult tissues? (3) Does gene expression differ between these gametes? Results. We show that egg and sperm display surprisingly similar levels of gene expression and overlapping functional enrichment patterns. These results may reflect similar environmental constraints faced by these motile gametes. We find significant differences in differential expression of egg vs. adult and sperm vs. adult RNA-seq data, in contrast to very few examples of differential expression when comparing egg vs. sperm transcriptomes. Lastly, using gene ontology and KEGG orthology data we show that both egg and sperm have markedly repressed transcription and translation machinery compared to the adult, suggesting a dependence on parental transcripts. We speculate that cell motility and calcium ion binding genes may be involved in gamete to gamete recognition in the water column and thus, fertilization.

Original languageEnglish
Article number9739
StatePublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Van Etten et al.


  • Coral dispersal
  • Coral gene expression
  • Coral genomics
  • Coral spawning
  • Coral sperm and egg function
  • Montipora capitata

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Neuroscience


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